Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform

committed to preventing tragedy that arises from illicit drug use

Against the National Interest:
A Critique of the Federal Government's Proposal to Replace the National Crime Authority

prepared by
Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform

Introduction (for full text click here)

The abolition of the National Crime Authority (NCA) will create a serious gap in Australian crime fighting capacity. The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) as envisaged lacks two elements of the National Crime Authority that are essential to tackle and establish the facts about organised crime, namely:

These are qualities required of a standing Royal Commission which is what the NCA is and the ACC will not be. The new commission will not be independent because it will be under the direct control of police commissioners and other law enforcement agencies which are themselves subject to substantial political direction.

It will not have effective governance because, unlike the NCA that basically is run by a chair and two other Board members, the new commission will be run by a large committee of all law enforcement agencies. It is as if the Government has completely forgotten the central messages of a string of Royal Commissions and other inquiries that have shown disturbing levels of corruption in law enforcement and other agencies of Government.

This paper explains how the changes would throw away characteristics that were seen as essential for the NCA. Effective crime fighting will be impeded by confused and fractured lines of responsibility between key office holders of the ACC. The lack of independence means that the new body will no longer have the credibility to back up its reporting functions of publicising information on the state of organised crime and recommending reform of the law and administrative practices.

The paper also examines in part D the reasons put forward by the Federal Government to justify its sudden about face in October 2001 from support of to opposition to the NCA. The reasons given are hollow.

The core one is that the change will improve co-ordination between law enforcement agencies and thus lead to more effective law enforcement. This is a case of blaming the NCA for a situation that has a existed apart from the NCA and which we can expect to continue under the new arrangements. There has been a long history of competition and jealousies between police services and other law enforcement agencies around the country. They have not been able to establish priorities and co-ordinate resources as they should have. Placing a committee of them in the driverís seat of the ACC will extend those problems to the operation of the new body.

The Government also points to the cumbersome procedure to secure references for the NCA to exercise its coercive powers. This is another difficulty external to the NCA. Streamlined reference procedures could and should have been established without affecting the constitution of that body.

Gathering together on the Board of the ACC of the heads of ASIO, ASIC and Customs with other law enforcement agencies is the only element that can be said to justify another of the objectives put forward by the Government: the need to combat better the growth in the international dimension of organised crime and its links to terrorism. But again, putting a group of jostling agencies together in the Board room of the ACC is no more likely to produce a national approach to the problem than have other attempts in the past to improve co-operation between the same agencies.

The Government puts the ACC forward as a vehicle to get a group of law enforcement agencies that have never co-ordinated their efforts as well as they should to mend their ways. It is unlikely to achieve this. It will certainly mark the destruction of the Royal Commission-like independence and status of the NCA. Indeed, the hollowness of the reasons put forward by the Federal Government for the change feed a suspicion that elimination of that independence was intended.

The NCA with its grant of powers by state as well as federal legislation is one of the most important bodies to be established in the Commonwealth since federation. Its replacement will make for less effective law enforcement at a time when all admit that organised crime is even more challenging. Reasons advanced by the Federal Government for the change do not add up.